Who's Afraid of the IRB?

If you look at the exponential growth in the amount of research dollars at Emory in 1990 as compared to 2005–06, it’s clear that we hadn’t invested in the overall infrastructure to keep pace with the volume of research and research dollars flowing through the institution.

—Earl Lewis, Provost, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs


Vol. 9 No. 1
September 2006

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Who's Afraid of the IRB?
How the Institutional Review Board stepped into the research culture gap

Bolstering the Infrastructure

"If you look at the exponential growth in the amount of research dollars at Emory in 1990 as compared to 2005–06, it’s clear that we hadn’t invested in the overall infrastructure to keep pace with the volume of research and research dollars flowing through the institution."

"The granting organizations aren’t stupid. They’re going to go where they think can get a trial done fastest. If we’re slow, they’ll know about it and go somewhere else. When people approach me about doing clinical trials, they ask me how fast our IRB is. It’s one of their first questions."


Biography Redux
New interest in an old standard


Keeping Cultural DNA Intact
The Italian Virtual Class Chiavi di lettura method


Mixed Messages
Ten years after the Emory Commission on Teaching


Encouraging Words
Suggestions from the Manuscript Development Program

Reading to help you write


Emory Indicators


Endnotes

Academic Exchange: Do the recent issues around the IRB indicate a widening gap between the college and health sciences?

Earl Lewis: I viewed this incident as less of a story about the health sciences and the college and more of a story about the infrastructural needs of Emory University. That’s not to say that I missed the socio-cultural significance of the other interpretation. Rather, if you look at the exponential growth in the amount of research dollars at Emory in 1990 as compared to 2005–06, it’s clear that we hadn’t invested in the overall infrastructure to keep pace with the volume of research and research dollars flowing through the institution. That’s a material fact. While the problem may be national, especially in the years of double-digit nih increases, when we compare ourselves to our peers, we’re wanting in several different categories in terms of personnel and overall operations. The IRB incident is reflective, but two other things had also changed. One, the senior staff leadership in the irb was replaced last academic year for a variety of reasons. Second, the compliance environment itself had changed in the last two to four years at the federal level. There was a tendency to frame this in terms of good guys and bad guys. I never saw it that way. I think the intent was to assist the researchers in their work in an environment that kept them out of harm’s way and in compliance with federal regulations, so that grants could be processed in ways that made sense and were streamlined. We aren’t there yet. We’re trying to put together the infrastructure to
minimize anything going wrong. We are making progress.

AE: Do you perceive a mutual suspicion between the college and the medical school?

EL: I think that on average, across units, faculty members have very little deep knowledge of what goes on outside of their department or school. In conversations with other provosts, this is certainly the case: faculty in the arts and sciences didn’t fully understand what a faculty member in medicine did, and vice versa. One of the great challenges and opportunities is trying to figure out how we educate one another about the different ways we operate as faculty. This episode highlighted the degree to which there aren’t many formal opportunities for us to understand one another’s professional lives. These are real, critical issues, and it goes back to President Wagner’s point that in all big, complex organizations, there’s this drift toward a multiversity. I am convinced that Emory will realize its strategic objectives as a university rather than a multiversity. We will have to develop opportunities for greater cross-unit collaboration and understanding.

AE: How do you convince people in the college that the medical school is not trying to overwhelm them?

EL: My response is framed by my experience elsewhere. I came from a place that had a large medical center—larger than this one—with a top public health school, top social work school, recognized nursing school, and a series of other health science components. There was never any fear at all that they would do anything to undermine what was happening in the arts and sciences, whose faculty members saw themselves as representatives of very strong and noteworthy academic units. My goal is to work with Bobby Paul to make the arts and sciences as strong as they can be, for the benefit of the college and the university. I would think that an English department would want the strongest health sciences center, because it redounds to the rest of the university. In turn, the epidemiology department in the public health school would want the strongest economics department in the world because it redounds to the rest of the university. After all, each component enhances the overall reputation of the university. Our goal is to continue to build a university of distinction. So the question should be, How do we make this the strongest Emory possible? And we must recognize that one strength doesn’t cancel out another. That’s why I say to faculty that strength in one area should beget strength in another area, and if you have strong players across the board you have a strong university.

AE: Explain the rationale behind Emory’s budget.

EL: If I understand your question in full, here is what I would say. We have a $2.6 billion operating budget, $1.4 billion of which is Emory Healthcare, which is distinct from the academic health sciences (although not fully exclusive of it). If you look at the size of the various schools, the two largest in the budget are the medical school and Emory College. They reflect the bulk of the faculty. There are more than 1,800 faculty in the medical school, both clinical and tenure track. There is a fraction of that number in Emory College. A cursory glance might tell you that there is a tilt toward health sciences. But a doctor in the medical school is supporting about 90 percent of his or her salary off of grants or through clinical care. Conversely, in arts and sciences, few faculty cover more than 20 percent of their salary at a given time through grants or other means. They, however, devote a larger proportion of their effort to the teaching of undergraduates. This mix is critical to all of the needs of a research university. The budget is designed to assist the university in meeting the needs of research, teaching, and service. Each year we go through a process designed to advance the top interests of each school. Every dean and director will say they want and need more money. But I think we do a very fine job in making sure the top priorities are funded and ensuring that we advance the interests of the overall university.